The New York Times doesn’t byline many stories from Fresno, but it did this trend story posted today about cities naming poet laureates.
Of course, the Times gets in an anti-Fresno crack right off:
This city has long been an object of ridicule.
The other Fresno parts of the story, which include an engaging portrayal of new city poet laureate James Tyner, pretty much satisfy the Big City Looks Down on the Hinterlands Times Check-List: Photo of ominous alley scene that includes graffiti, overturned shopping cart and stray garbage? Check. Quotation about nothing to do here? Check. Reference to cultural wasteland? Check. Lavish use of the word “dust”? Check.
The story is livened up by a fun exchange with Philip Levine, former national poet laureate, who asks if too many poet laureates could devalue the title, then shares a very funny anecdote:
During decades of teaching creative writing at California State University, Fresno, Mr. Levine was credited with nurturing generations of poets. But, he recalled, when he moved here in the late 1950s, there was only one small bookstore, from which the chairman of his department waved him away.
“He said: ‘I called up once and asked if they carried poetry magazines. They said yes. When I went down there, it was poultry magazines,’ ” Mr. Levine said.
The Times piece is interesting, and I’m certainly not Times-bashing. The story is well-written and accurate, even if it doesn’t mention any of our cultural amenities (besides some good poets). It’s hard to fit nuance into a short story that already has a definitive theme. But in the spirit of complexity, I do find it interesting, as a New York City lover, how little of the grime of the Big Apple makes it into the pages of the Times on a daily basis. Just once I’d like to see a photograph of Donald Trump up against a wall of graffiti.